United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
D. ENGELHARDT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Defendant Halliburton Energy Services,
Inc.'s Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Punitive Damages
Claim (Rec. Doc. 14) and Defendant Cobalt International
Energy, L.P.'s Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Punitive
Damages Claim (Rec. Doc. 18). Plaintiff Gerald Wiltz
(“Wiltz”) has filed a single memorandum in
opposition (Rec. Doc. 22) to both motions to dismiss, to
which Halliburton Energy Services, Inc.
(“Halliburton”) and Cobalt International Energy,
L.P. (“Cobalt”) have replied. See Rec.
Doc. 34; Rec. Doc. 32. Having carefully considered the
supporting and opposing submissions, the record, and the
applicable law, IT IS ORDERED that the
motion is GRANTED for the reasons stated
instant matter arises out of Wiltz's personal injuries,
which were allegedly sustained after he was exposed to
hydrogen sulfide aboard the drill ship M/V Deepwater Reliance
(“Reliance”) on April 7, 2016. See Rec.
Doc. 1 at p. 3. Thereafter, Wiltz filed his Seaman's
Complaint for Damages asserting claims under the Jones Act
and general maritime law against: (1) M-I LLC
(“M-I”), as his Jones Act Employer; (2) Rowan
Companies, Inc. (“Rowan”), as owner of the
Reliance; (3) Cobalt, as the “leaseholder and operator
as per BSEE rules and regulations;” and (4)
Halliburton, as a non-employer tortfeasor. Id. In
his Seaman's Complaint, Wiltz alleges that,
Plaintiff specifically alleges a claim for punitive damages
against the defendants herein based upon General Maritime
Law. This claim relates not only to any arbitrary and/or
unreasonable failure of defendant to pay maintenance and cure
benefits but also for any gross negligence of the defendants,
or unseaworthiness of the vessel as may be allowed under
General Maritime Law.
Id. at p. 5. In response, Halliburton and Cobalt
have filed motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).
See Rec Doc. 14; Rec. Doc. 18. Both Defendants argue
that punitive damages are unavailable to seamen against
non-employer third parties under the existing precedent of
the Supreme Court of the United States and the Fifth Circuit
Court of Appeals. See Rec. Doc. 14-1 at p. 3; Rec.
Doc. 18-1 at p. 2. However, Wiltz argues that the Supreme
Court case, Atlantic Sounding, Inc. v. Townsend, 557
U.S. 404, 129 S.Ct. 2561, 174 L.Ed.2d 282 (2009),
“suggests that if a seaman is now allowed to pursue
punitive damages against his employer under his general
maritime law maintenance and cure claim, then he certainly
should be allowed to invoke and pursue his centuries old
claim for punitive damages against a third party under
general maritime law.” Rec. Doc. 22 at p. 11.
RULE 12(b)(6) STANDARD
order to survive a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the
complaint must allege “enough facts to state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct.
1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). “A claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct.
1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550
U.S. at 570). Furthermore, the allegations within a complaint
“must make relief plausible, not merely conceivable,
when taken as true.” United States ex rel. Grubbs
v. Kanneganti, 565 F.3d 180, 186 (5th Cir. 2009).
Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “construes the complaint
liberally in favor of the plaintiff, and takes all facts
pleaded in the complaint as true.” Gregson v.
Zurich American Ins. Co., 322 F.3d 883, 885 (5th Cir.
2003) (citing Campbell v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.,
781 F.2d 440, 442 (5th Cir. 1986)). Further, “[a]ll
questions of fact and any ambiguities in the controlling
substantive law must be resolved in the plaintiff's
favor.” Lewis v. Fresne, 252 F.3d 352, 357
(5th Cir. 2001). However, this tenet is inapplicable to legal
conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A complaint is
unsatisfactory “if it tenders ‘naked
assertion[s]' devoid of further factual
enhancement.” Id. (citing Twombly,
550 U.S. at 557). Legal conclusions must be supported by
factual allegations. Gentilello v. Rege, 627 F.3d
540, 544 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
LAW AND ANALYSIS
and Cobalt argue that under the existing precedent of the
Supreme Court of the United States and the Fifth Circuit
Court of Appeals, a seaman is precluded from recovering
punitive damages from a non-employer third-party under
general maritime law. This Court has recently examined the
progression of cases that discuss a seaman's ability to
recover non-pecuniary damages under general maritime law in
Melancon v. Gaubert Oil Co., Inc., No. CV 17-2905,
2017 WL 3438346, at *2 (E.D. La. Aug. 10, 2017). In
Melancon, this Court concluded that the injured
seaman, as well as his wife and children who claimed loss of
consortium, love and affection, and services, were precluded
from recovering non-pecuniary damages from a non-employer
defendant under general maritime law.
Court's analysis of precedent discussing a seaman's
ability to recover non-pecuniary damages in Melancon
is also applicable in the instant case. While Wiltz argues
that Atlantic Sounding, Inc. v. Townsend, 557 U.S.
404, 129 S.Ct. 2561, 174 L.Ed.2d 282 (2009) suggests that if
a seaman is allowed to pursue punitive damages against his
employer under a claim for maintenance and cure, then he
should be allowed to pursue his centuries old claim for
punitive damages against a third party under general maritime
law, the Court disagrees.
Court concluded in Wade v. Clemco Industries Corp.,
2017 WL 434425, *5 (E.D.La. Feb. 1, 2017) (J. Fallon),
“the Fifth Circuit has now made it clear that under
both the Jones Act and general maritime law, a seaman's
damages against both employers and non-employers are limited
to pecuniary losses.” See also Rinehart v.
Nat'l Oilwell Varco, L.P., 2017 WL 1407699, at *4
(E.D.La. Apr. 20, 2017) (J. Fallon) (same); Bell v.
Foster Wheeler Energy Corp., 2017 WL 889074, at *4
(E.D.La. Mar. 6, 2017) (J. Africk) (holding that a
seaman's representative cannot recover non-pecuniary
damages in a wrongful death action under general maritime
law); Rockett v. Belle Chasse Marine Transp., LLC,
2017 WL 2226319, at *4 (E.D.La. May 22, 2017) (J. Lemmon)
(refusing to limit Scarborough, McBride,
and Wade to wrongful death cases); Schutt v.